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Volunteers minister to equine enthusiasts

LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)–The distant sigh of traffic on Ironworks Road filled an open doorway to Cane Run Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., a historic congregation uphill from the vast sweep of the Lexington Horse Park.

A cold, gray light filtered through the stained glass into the sanctuary where John Lyons, “America’s horseman,” led a devotional on day eight of the World Equestrian Games.

Spurs clanked with each heavy step along the red carpet.

“[God] doesn’t want everyone to look the same and be the same ’cause He didn’t create everybody the same,” Lyons told an audience holding golf ball-sized globs of play-dough every color of the rainbow.

“I woke at 5 this morning with the guilt of yesterday weighing on me,” Lyons said. “I had been in a hurry and a man had asked if I had a pass to get in the park, and I was too busy to slow down and help him. This morning I woke and thought I needed to call him. He’d given me his card. I couldn’t find it. So I searched my pockets. I found it. I called his number and it rang and rang.”

A misdial. A redial. And the man picked up.

“I told him to meet me out here at the church at a quarter to 8.”

The man did.

“We have these opportunities. And if John is not thinking about John and what he’s doing next, then maybe I’ll be able to be the light of Christ in somebody’s life, instead of waking with guilt at 5 a.m.,” Lyons said. “Some of the best sermons aren’t preached but lived.”

Lyons is a world-renowned horse trainer who uses his to share the Gospel. He’s just one of a half-dozen equestrian celebs reined in by Affiliated International Ministries (AIM) to provide entertainment during the games. AIM, an organization led by Kentucky Baptist Convention consultant Larry Martin, is responsible for much of the Christian volunteer work provided at the world’s most prestigious horsing event.

North American Mission Board missionaries, the Kentucky Woman’s Missionary Union and volunteers from eight denominations joined in sharing Christ and providing free services to the 300,000 or more visitors from 65 countries.

At the halfway point of the 16-day competition, the church services at Cane Run Baptist Church and other churches throughout the Lexington area served to calibrate a band of more than 350 volunteers from other parts of the state and nation who are serving in a variety of ministries throughout the games.

“I couldn’t be any happier,” said volunteer Chuck Jacobs, a retired Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer who slept in a pop-up camper in a nearby field and arrived early every morning to shuttle volunteers from the church along with patrons from the games’ parking area to events.

The shuttle service is a welcome surprise to people who’d otherwise walk a half-mile, Jacobs said, and it’s an easy way to distribute “More Than Gold” horseshoe-style witnessing pins to tell passengers about Christ’s love.

“I feel like an outsider here sometimes,” Jacobs said. “But I guess I am an outsider. Jesus was an outsider. My job is to let them in on the secret of my hope and happiness.”

Half-million-dollar horses, English butlers at the $600-a-day Maker’s Mark dining area, language and cultural barriers, and the mystique of equestrian culture are just a few of the “artifacts” that make the World Equestrian Games a microcosm of a large and vastly unreached affinity group. Volunteers such as Jacobs and devout Christians with equestrian clout like John Lyons are seeking to put feet to faith in an otherwise insular milieu.

“We believe the greatest movement of God is happening right now in the horse world,” Larry Martin said, with Maureen Gallatin, editor of Perfect Horse magazine and a Christian witness among horse people, attributing this movement to God’s faithful filling places deep within the culture at events such as the World Equestrian Games.

“We’re meeting people in their area of passion,” Gallatin said, speaking to Baptist Press during the annual Secretariat festival earlier in the weekend. A few yards away a horse trainer gave a horseman’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, mounted on a steed. “Horses are such great communicators about the relationship between people and God.”

The trust, dependence and obedience a horse exhibits toward a rider teaches a lot about how God asks for our trust, dependence and obedience not only for His glory and purposes but for our good, Gallatin said.

Spurs clanking at the outset of a cold and gray day, yet one brimming with possibility, John Lyons and dozens of blue-shirted volunteers readied themselves for a final big week of pointing the world to the God who made the noble animals and their noble riders.
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

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  • Adam Miller